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October 2023 Update

When it comes to fall cleanup, less is more. Please see the short article at the bottom of this page and share it as widely as possible. And thanks to Cindy Speas, we have a second article to share, this one about planting trees. Please put them both out there!

Outreach of the month: Help our trees and win a gift certificate to a native plant nursery

Volunteers for our Tree Rescuer program distribute door hangers to alert Northern Virginia residents who have trees at risk from invasive vines such as English Ivy. Sign up now so we can mail you the materials, and see how many you can distribute from November 1 to February 1. No experience necessary! Find the details here.

Two prizes will be awarded: one for the greatest number of residents alerted with a door hanger, and the other for the largest residential area covered.

The winners can choose their garden center for a $75 gift certificate.

-Earth Sangha

-Nature by Design

-Watermark Woods

Partner of the Month – Virginia Native Plant Society

Plant NOVA Natives is the collaborative social marketing work of around a hundred local organizations. One of the founding partners was the Virginia Native Plant Society (VNPS), which has three local chapters: VNPS-Potowmack, Piedmont, and Prince William Wildflower Society. Through education, conservation and advocacy, VNPS works to protect the native plants of Virginia and their habitats. The chapters sponsor talks, walks, and plant sales, fund interns at parks, and partner with organizations to combat invasive species and plant natives in public spaces. Members share advice through email listservs and a Facebook group. The statewide organization raises money for land conservation, funds botanical research, does advocacy around legislative issues, and was one of the founding forces behind the Flora of Virginia project and the regional native plant campaigns including Plant NOVA Natives. Consider joining!

Celebrate Native Trees Month is well underway. Check out our website for discounts and events.

Upcoming HOA event

November 16, 7 pm Conservation Café: Yes, in my HOA back (and front) yard!


· Bolstering Effective Conservation Advocacy; How to Get Elected Officials on your Side

Saturday, October 21, 1pm – 4:30 pm. Register here.

· Fairfax County Tree Advocates Training

Series of four trainings. Learn more here.

· Learn how to engage young people

Would you like to learn an array of engaging activities to teach young people the importance of caring for trees? Project Learning Tree offers a 4-6 hour interactive environmental education workshop focused on trees for teachers, parents, and community members who work with children in grades K-12. The workshop costs $10 and requires a minimum of eight participants. If interested, contact Wendy Cohen at

Report your native tree and shrub plantings

Please help Northern Virginia meet its tree-planting obligations by reporting your tree and shrub plantings here. So far 13,316have been reported!

Report your tree rescues

Millions of trees are at risk from invasive non-native vines. You can help save them on your own land or by volunteering on public land. So far, 10,261 tree rescues have been reported in Northern Virginia. Please add your report here.

Next Steering Committee meeting – via videoconferencing – All are welcome. Thursday, November 30, 10:00am-noon. Check our Event Calendar for future meetings.

This month’s newsletter articles to share

Fall cleanup in two easy steps

Here is an executive summary of eco-friendly yard maintenance recommendations for fall.

1. Watch the pretty leaves flutter down from above.

2. Do as little as possible to disturb those leaves or the flower stalks.

In the days when gardening meant growing food for the table, cleaning out plant debris before winter was a routine practice to reduce the spread of diseases that affect vegetables. That routine carried over when suburbanites switched their yards to ornamental plants and turf grass, with the unfortunate consequence that we deprived our non-human neighbors of the shelter and food they need to survive. The tide is turning, though, as people are realizing that attractive gardens that support the ecosystem do better when their caretakers go easy on the autumn chores.

Some birds and nocturnal mammals are able to dig for grubs in a lawn, but you may have noticed that most friendly critters such as box turtles, frogs, and katydids do not spend a lot of time frolicking on your turf grass. It would leave them much too exposed, not to mention starving. Layers of leaves from native trees and shrubs, by contrast, provide a smorgasbord for them. Some of their meals consist of the caterpillars and other insects that feed on the leaves of native trees in spring and summer until they float down to the ground in the fall. Those that escape predation turn into adults the next spring and start the cycle over. Other insects such as fireflies spend their entire lives in the leaf litter, coming out briefly to find mates. All this assumes that their homes are not chopped up or raked up to be sent off to mulch factories.

Similarly, dead stalks provide shelter for many little critters, including certain species of native bees that burrow into the ends of broken stalks to lay their eggs. Plants left intact enliven our yards all winter with their interesting seed heads and waving stems, made even more lively as the songbirds perch on the stalks and scrabble in the leaves for the seeds of flowers and grasses.

As the plants emerge again in the spring, they have no trouble pushing past the dead leaves, which act as a natural mulch until they gradually decompose and feed the soil. Many of the dead flower stalks will have fallen down by spring, and those remaining are quickly hidden from sight by the growing plants. If those plants are native to our ecosystem, they continue to provide benefits the rest of the year by nourishing the caterpillars and providing nectar and pollen for the pollinators. Some of the thicker leaves such as oaks may smother turf grass under the trees, but that is just as well, since mowing around trees risks injuries to their bark, and walking under them compacts the soil and stresses the roots. Trees do best when their leaves are left in place out to the drip line. But if that isn’t possible, try to move these leaves intact into other beds. Mulching fallen leaves with the mower blade is better than sending them off in a truck or dumping smothering piles in the woods, but it may chop up the insect larvae and eggs.

Simple adjustments such as these to our landscaping practices will greatly improve the prospects of our local ecosystem. Other important steps to take include adding native plants, removing invasive non-native plants, minimizing the use of outdoor lighting, and eliminating mosquito spraying with its lethal consequences to the living world. Learn more on the Plant NOVA Natives website.

After a Long Hot Summer, It’s Time to Plant Trees!

By Cindy Speas, Chair Fairfax County Tree Commission

Preserving trees and planting new native trees are major goals of the Plant NOVA Trees campaign. So, in April I wrote about how to plan for spring and fall tree planting seasons, in the summer about the dangers of non-native trees, and last month about celebrating October as Native Tree Month in Virginia. In this sequel, you must already realize I’m going to write about planting trees!

Autumn is a perfect time for trees to go in the ground. Instead of facing a long, hot summer, trees have time to get acclimated to their new space, and then they cheerfully spend the winter in a dormant state. Those who plant in the fall not only find the temperatures invigorating for physical labor, but can also look forward to budding and blooming in the spring, when the days get longer. It’s a win-win!

Christina Hester recently described in Casey Trees’ blog “The Leaflet” all the reasons newly planted trees do so well in cooler temperatures. In Fall is for Planting she says cool weather means less stress on the trees and higher rates of survival. There’s more water available for their roots, since water evaporates more quickly when it’s hot! Cooler air also reduces the threat of pest or disease damage. Of course, there’s the same chance of rain or drought as in spring and summer, so in all seasons, we need to regularly water newly installed trees to ensure success. Details on the watering schedule, which depends on the size of the tree, can be found on the Plant NOVA Trees tree planting tips page. in the fall, there is lovely, free mulch available when deciduous trees shed their leaves in your yard, right where you need them! All the newly planted seedlings or young trees can benefit from the soil around them being enhanced with leaves. If you use leaves for mulch, just remember to leave a wider space around the tree trunk to reduce damage to the young sapling’s sensitive outer bark.

Native trees provide our ecosystems both seen and unseen benefits. When trees are lost to development or disease or invasive vines, there must be other healthy trees of all sizes and ages coming along behind to take their place as the overstory kings of the urban forest. Maintaining and preserving the saplings so carefully planted each season is a labor of love in the service of growing healthier ecosystems and a healthier planet.

Perhaps this autumn, you might ask a child to help you—because every child that plants a tree is a part of that tree’s history, and the tree will surely find a place in that child’s heart. Searching for the right place to dig, gently spreading out a sapling’s roots in the ground, patting down the warm soil, smelling the earth after the first watering—this experience can turn a girl or boy into a plant and planet lover for life. And what we love can also become a part of an ethical journey towards caring for the whole earth that supports that one tree.

Autumn is not just a great time to plant trees, but also to reflect on the bigger picture. Doug Tallamy, famous for his research on oak trees, has started a Homegrown National Park project. The effort “has no political, religious, cultural or geographic boundaries because everyone—every human being on this planet—needs diverse, highly productive ecosystems to survive.” And, I might add, also to thrive. Tallamy says planting native trees and plants in our own backyards will increase the biodiversity of North America, one plant at a time. Such a grand ecological vision can take root in the one act of a child helping you to plant a tree.


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